Monday, October 26, 2020

On Noticing

Reese is 13 years old today. Our baby girl is no longer a baby, but pretty much a young lady. She weighs 70 pounds. She’s an adolescent. She prefers High School Musical to My Little Pony. She has a crush on her Physical Therapist’s son, Cody. When she was a baby, it was easy to hold her. It was easy to take her out in a stroller. People didn’t stare at her when she was a baby. When she was a baby, my back didn’t hurt. Her hip wasn’t out of the socket. She was still eating by mouth. Before Reese was born, I had never known anyone who had a child like her. I had no frame of reference for parenting a child who required total care. So we have learned about each other over the years. She is so unique in so many ways, even within the diagnosis of Aicardi Syndrome, that her pediatrician often comments, “When it comes to Reese, we just toss out the manual because she’s telling us, ‘you’re just going to have to learn about me.’” And I often think, isn’t that the way we all want to be treated anyway? The past 13 years have been a long process of learning to how to notice. Reese doesn’t communicate with words. But I can tell you what she is thinking based upon the position of her eyebrows. She doesn’t call me Mom, but I know the M sound she makes to tell me, Mom, my feeding tube is disconnected and my clothes are now soaking wet. She doesn’t greet people with a hello, but I know the sparkle in her eyes and the wide grin on her face that tells me, I really like this person in particular. She doesn’t tell me what TV shows she likes best, but every morning she looks at her TV and then looks back at me, then back at the TV to ask me, Mom, can I watch a show? Her belly laughs tell me, my angels are entertaining me (well, I can’t guarantee this one, but I think so). We have become students of Reese. And we have developed a deep relationship with her spirit by noticing the nuances. By paying attention to the way she communicates. And what a joy it is to know her spirit. In the process, she has taught me more about God than anyone else. She has taught me how to pay attention to God. What it looks like to live in constant communion. How to notice and how to listen. How to look for what God is doing in the joy and in the pain. She has shown me that God is always at work and is holding an invitation open for me to ask him what he wants me to see. Matthew 5 says, “Blessed are the pure in spirit, for they shall see God.” I’ve come to recognize that Reese is the essence of pure in spirit. She has not pretense, no ulterior motives. No jealousy, no entitlement. She’s never expressed anger or had a tantrum. She is only pure love. So somehow, I have had the fortune of being grafted into this blessing with her and have been able to see God with her. At the beginning, I felt so sad for Reese. I mourned her for the first year of her life. Now, when I see her, I just think, if only I could be more like her. If only everyone could be more like her. That’s the goal. I used to think that I needed to know everything and that Reese’s well being was all up to me. If I didn’t do it all right, then she would die. The weight I carried almost buried me. Today I see her life as a holy experience in which Mario and I take care of Reese with God, and God reveals to us some secrets that we were too blind to see before. The nature of our loving Father. The One who has carried us every single day for 13 years. The one who has whispered in my ear, it is time to call the ambulance. The one who also has whispered, she is OK, just wait. The one who tells me, savor this moment. The one who guides me and tells me, spend your time here and not here. It’s not what I expected, these 13 years. Not at all. I thought we’d overcome the odds and teach her to walk and talk. I thought God would miraculously heal her and I’d come to her crib and find her standing. I thought for sure her MRI would show a healed brain. I thought I’d be the poster mother for how to prove the doctors wrong. Instead, God invited me into something else. He invited me into the quiet space of noticing and listening and seeing and trusting and dwelling with him. One foot in front of the other. One moment at a time. With Him. And I can honestly say today, on Reese’s 13th birthday, that I would not change a thing. I would choose her over and over. And thank you, God, for every single day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Reese's Birthday Meditation

Every year, as Reese’s birthday approaches, I take time to write down some thoughts about her and about the last year. Her birthdays seem sacred to me. Like a gift that came that I maybe wasn’t expecting. It feels like an exhale. We made it. We made it to 11.

It’s a celebration every year, but it also feels like a deep reflection. I think it flows from gratefulness. A thank you, God, for letting me be her mom for one more year. And it also comes with a weightiness, like I owe it to Reese to learn every lesson and to always be listening and learning. Because I’ve been given so many gifts and so I better be worthy of them. I know, it’s a little psycho.

There was one lesson that came in the heat of June and has been reverberating ever since. I kind of knew it was Reese’s 11th birthday lesson to me. It’s finally time for me to put it to paper. Even though I may not do it justice, I need to write it down, and hopefully it is a blessing to someone else.

We have a lemon tree in our yard. Every year, it produces lemons, but this year it went crazy. Like it hit its maturity and the lemons sprouted all over and grew beautiful and plentiful. We ate or gifted every lemon from that tree this summer. Every single one, and there were hundreds. I put organic lemon juice in my water every morning, in my green drink, in tea. I put beautiful shiny lemons in bowls on the counter and in bags to give to friends. The lemons brought me a little joy every single day. That tree.:)

One day in June, realizing I had picked all of the exterior beautiful fruit, I spotted the lemon I wanted. It was tucked back closer to the trunk. I carefully navigated my hand through thorns and leaves and grabbed that bulbous beauty. It came off the vine like butter, and I held it in admiration. It was twice the size of the others with thick beautiful skin. And I said to that lemon, “Wow. You’ve been protected under those leaves, defended by those thorns all summer. And look at you. You have grown huge and so beautiful.”
And I promise, I heard God say to me, And that is what I require of you, Kerry.

It was one of those really powerful moments. Like where I know I will remember this for a long time. And I want to flesh it out and know what he meant and lean into it and really get it.

Here’s what He’s been teaching me since that day:

What I want for you, my darling, is to sit with me and keep company with me. I want you to let me shield you. I want to cover you and care for you. I want you to learn from me. I want you to hide your life in mine, and I want you to know that all of the consequences are on Me. Your life is mine, so everything that happens to you is my responsibility. This is where your growth happens. This is where you beauty resides. Keep company with me. That’s what I require of you.

It feels like a lot of love and freedom. It’s very easy for me to fall into the the thinking, “If I don’t do this, then…”. It can be simple, like, “If I don’t teach my kids to do their chores with a happy heart, then they will be selfish jerks and no one will want to live with them.” And it can go to “If I don’t protect my girls and know everything about their lives, then they will get their hearts broken.” And I often go to “If I don’t research and read and figure out everything related to Reese, then she will die.” I go there a lot. This is a hard way to live. This is a hard place to be everyday. And what I’m learning is, it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t have to live like this. Thinking like this and living like this are choices that I am making. Like it’s all up to me and if I fail, then Reese will die. I don’t have to allow that thinking to run rampant, and I don’t want to. God is not requiring me to take on the full weight of life and all of the consequences of it. He is requiring me to keep company with him and learn from him. And to allow him the honor of being in charge of the consequences. He says to me, hand it over. Let it be my responsibility. It’s too heavy for you, and I told you that I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and learn from me and I’ll teach you to live freely and lightly.

I don’t know about you, but to me “freely and lightly” are some of the most beautiful words. That kind of life is possible. And I want it. This is my rhythm. Resting close to the vine, under the leaves, protected and cared for.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and I’ll teach you to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Some ramblings about books and my biggest fear

So maybe this will be remembered as the summer of reading. I recently finished “Draw the Circle.” You’d like it. (It's predecessor is The Circle Maker). It's about praying for impossible things and that's always a favorite topic of mine. Last week, while on vacation, I finished “Blue Like Jazz." Faith chose it for our summer book club from a list of books teenagers should read before they go to college. Awesome. Because I'd been meaning to read that book for years. I don’t usually read in the car because I get sick, but this time I was able to stomach it on our drive to California, which was like a double gift. Because I was laughing out loud at his storytelling and then I had this captive audience in the car to whom I was re-reading portions out loud. Oh yes, they loved that.

We spent a day at Universal Studios, which was a blast but the rides are mostly the scary kind. I told my family that I am way too old to do anything I don’t want to do at an amusement park. So they let me sit with my book in a shady spot and read while they went on the scary ones. Mia noticed, “Mom, you’ve only been on two rides. It’s so sad.” I mean, I went on Jurassic Park and Minions. Minions was too much for me, so that pretty much sums up my ride tolerance.

“No no, this is exactly where I want to be, honey. Reading. Almost uninterrupted.”

We had left Reese back in Phoenix at Ryan House, which is a respite house for families with complicated children. I know that’s not the official description, but she stayed behind with her nurses, mostly because we cannot take her seizure medicine across state lines into California. It’s a long story, and the laws are stupid and the pharma industry makes me angry, so don’t get me started. But anyway, yes, it is very hard for us to leave her. Tears spilled down my face when I said goodbye. As hard as that is, it is probably healthy for me to take a break from being a caregiver. It took Mario and me a couple days before we completely relaxed. Because when you are a full-time caregiver, there is always something to be done. It is always time for something: food, meds, bathroom, therapy, water, repositioning. Ordering supplies, calling doctors. Always something. So I guess I'm not always conscious of it, but my mind is always thinking of what's next.
When I turned that part of my brain off and just sat and read my book, it felt really weird and good. That was what I really wanted and needed to do. I finished Blue Like Jazz between the drive and the Universal Studios shady spots. It was really good. If you’ve read it, I’d love to discuss it with you. I’ve heard it’s controversial and I’m not sure why. It’s the guy’s life story. I mean, can’t we let him have his story?:)

Mia chose for us to read “Let’s Be Real” by Natasha Bure for our book club. (In case you're confused, I started weekly book club meetings just with my high school girls and me. We read and discuss.) I’ve only just begun this book, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the target market for it. But Mia is and she’s loving it.

This week I’m reading “Nothing to Prove” by Jennie Allen. All by myself. Here’s the thing about books and me. I love to read, but I never allow myself to read just for fun. It’s like I have to be learning and growing and being inspired or else I feel like I’m wasting time and I feel guilty. Am I the only one? Maybe it’s part of the caregiver mentality. Too much to do to waste time. If you’re a therapist and you know what’s wrong with me, feel free to comment.

In Nothing to Prove, the author asked me (well not me personally, but the reader. You get it.) to write down answers to these questions at the end of a chapter called “No Longer Afraid”:

1. What is the worst thing that could happen?
2. So what if that comes true?
3. So what happens because of that?
4. So what happens because of that?
When you reach the end of the ‘so what happens,’ there lies your greatest fear, the one that keeps you in bondage. When you can name that, consider this:
5. Would God be enough for your greatest fear?

It’s not hard for me to come up with the answers to those questions.
1. We lose Reese
2. My heart would be broken
3. I would miss her and I'm not sure I can handle the pain
4. I would be sad for the rest of my life, and it would be hard for me to be anything but sad.
So there’s my biggest fear.

I know every parent fears losing a child. It’s the worst thing we can imagine. And I know that at any moment I could lose any of my children. But it’s different when doctors tell you that you will lose this child. It’s not a matter of if, but when. It’s a different kind of fear. It’s a day-to-day dealing with the fact that I love this child with every part of me but there is a very real possibility that I may have to let go.

I held her a little longer last night. Sometimes I hold her and smell her and think I never want to forget this moment. Mario asked why I was crying and laughing with her at the same time. It’s because I know that I love her so much that it actually hurts. Sometimes it’s a painful place to live—-between loving so deeply and knowing that it could end. But the beautiful part of it is that I know I’ve experienced a deep love. The kind that I think can only be found in brokenness, in mourning, in fighting for every little thing.

So I spent yesterday asking God, “Will you be enough? Will I be OK if my worst fear is realized?”

And the answer was yes. God reminded me how he has been enough for me, living with Reese’s terminal diagnosis, and He will be enough for me every day, no matter what comes. If I let Him. That’s been the key for me. He is enough for me when I allow him to be. When I ask Him to be. If I try to carry my pain on my own, it’s messy and ugly. But I have to believe that no matter what comes my way, He will be enough and He can be trusted. I have to believe that. Our lives roll along and sometimes we get a curve ball. That curve ball doesn't define us. But what we do next can. In my experience, I've realized that I choose whether I trust God in each situation. I choose trust or fear. I get to choose my perspective--look for the goodness, or stay worried and angry. But the even cooler part is that it is God who makes our hardest things good. Not just OK and smoothed over, but He promised us that he would cause all things to work together for our good if we love him and we are called according to his purpose. He makes all those curve balls good for us. If we allow it. I think that's why he added the qualifier "to those who love him and are called according to his purpose." Because we all know that we can choose bitterness and anger and worry, which are places where it's really hard for beautiful things to grow.

I've noticed something different about people who truly trust God. Their core identity is different from everyone else in the world. They are free to live and love and be in a way that makes people pay attention. When you meet someone like that, you know. I remember when I was a teenager, I was flying with my parents. The plane was dropping and shifting and bouncing all over the sky. I was white-knuckling the arm rests and reminding myself to breathe. My mom was reading a book in total peace. I asked her, "How can you not be scared, Mom?" She answered in a totally calm voice, "I trust God." I responded, "But what if we die?!?"
"I trust God with that too."
She didn't give me stats about plane safety or weather conditions or probabilities. It was just that she trusted God with our lives. I will never forget that. Her life is defined by trusting God. It is the core of who she is, so she doesn't worry about life and death. What a revolutionary way to live.

And you know what the truth is? Just because some doctors say Reese will have a short life does not make it so. The power of life and death is in God’s hands. Reese could grow up to be an old woman, and I don’t want to look back on my life and say, “Well, I sure wasted a lot of good days fearing death.” That would be a waste of a gift. That would be a stain on a miracle. I don’t want to do that. What does life look like, then, when we remove even our biggest fears from the equation? If fear is no longer holding us in bondage, then how would our lives look different? It seems to me, it is then that God sets us totally free. I know it's possible, but it has to be a lifelong journey toward fully trusting God to be enough. Day by day, moment by moment, thought by thought. No more fear.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Hummingbirds and Parenting

Yesterday was one of those Aicardi Syndrome mom days. I couldn’t really think or do. Whenever there is one in our Aicardi family who is clinging to life, it kind of paralyzes me. Knocks the wind out. Yesterday was no different, as we got the news that our friends are taking their daughter home on hospice to make the transition to heaven. It weighed heavy.

I escaped to a comfy outside spot. It was a beautiful day to pray and read and listen to the wind and the song of the mockingbird.

I read the story of George Washington Carver. Such a fascinating man. Born into slavery, he became one of the most influential scientific minds in American history. He discovered over 300 uses for the peanut and virtually saved the southern farming economy at the turn of the century. He had a habit of waking at 4:00 AM to pray. He would ask God to reveal mysteries of creation. And He would pray around this verse:
Job 12:7-9
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.” And God revealed to him why he made the peanut. Fascinating!

Almost immediately after I read that verse, a hummingbird buzzed in front of me. It was as if she was looking at me, almost making eye contact. I was fascinated and delighted. She paused for a moment on the tip of the agave plant in front of me. I love to see them in stillness. I had considered it sort of an anomaly in the life of the hummingbird. She then flew up to a perch in the tree beside me. And she sat for 5 minutes in stillness. I asked God to allow this bird to teach me, as Job had suggested. She sat. She was still. I always see hummingirds buzzing and working and moving, but she took time to be still. And I need to be still. Specifically in the presence of God. As Mark Batterson says, “Get into God’s presence. That is the solution to every problem. That is the answer to every question…the Holy Spirit will reveal things that can only be discovered in the presence of God.” So true. I decided that was the hummingbird’s lesson for me.

She flew off. But then she returned a minute later. This time, she seemed to be spreading herself out on a tiny nest. Could it be? I went inside to google a picture of a hummingbird nest, and there it was. It had the circumference of a quarter, and the caption said few people ever see them because they are so beautifully camouflaged. They are carefully knit together with soft petals, leaves and silk from the mama. A soft nest for two tiny bean-sized eggs. I got to watch her in action, and I felt like God was speaking to me again. This mama. She’s doing everything she can to take care of her children. She is doing her best. She is doing her part. And then she has to rely on me to do my part.

Parenting can be so hard. Parenting toddlers is hard. Parenting kids with struggles (which is all of them at one time or another) is hard. Parenting teenage girls is hard. Parenting a child with a terminal condition is really hard too. That’s no surprise, I’m sure. But we are not alone. We are in a partnership with the One who created them. We do our part, and then we can pray and trust and pray and trust and allow God to work out some of the heavy lifting on his end. We can pray for those impossible things and then wait in stillness. In peace. I told my girls about my encounter with the hummingbird. Olivia asked, “Do you think hummingbirds pray?” Probably.:) She sure knows a lot about parenting and I’m pretty sure I know who taught her.

I was hurting. I went to sit with God. I prayed for our friends. I read his Word. His bird came to say hello. And then she taught me about God. Mind blown for the day.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
Job 12:7-10

Maybe you need to let God to do some of the heavy lifting today.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lessons from the ER

It was Valentine’s Day. Mario and I had a nurse scheduled to be with Reese, and he and I were going to go out for a lover's breakfast. Ha ha. Just kidding, I hate that word, "lover." But we ended up in the Emergency Room. Reese was diagnosed with pneumonia. We looked at each other with that familiar disappointment. Our plans changed suddenly by our little, fragile one.

We chatted with our nurse. “These weren’t our original Valentine’s plans.”

She responded, “You are here because you love her. And that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.”

Yeah, girl. Yeah. I loved that she said that. I felt seen.

Before we left that day, she said, “I can tell you guys take great care of her.”

We felt seen. In fact, that is one of the most meaningful compliments I can receive. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe a psychologist can answer that. It’s not the same as, “You’re a great mom.” It’s deeper. It’s a phrase that implies, I see you. I see the work you are doing and it matters, mom. I dunno. It feels really good to me.

We ended up in the ER again with Reese 5 days later. She seemed to take a step backward in her recovery. It was also Olivia’s 13th birthday, so I tried to convince myself it would be a quick stop and we would be home to celebrate in a hurry. Our nurse on this day commented on how siblings of kids like Reese learn to be very others-centered because of circumstances like this. Thanks for seeing Olivia.

We ended up staying for 8 hours. Weekends in the ER seem to move a little slower. Our room was situated right by the parking lot, where the ambulances pulled up and unloaded children. I tried not look. But I did notice that a Sheriff’s vehicle sat outside our window with its lights flashing. Two things I’ve learned over the years: Pediatric ER nurses are some of my favorite people and the ER can be a scene for drama. As we were packing up to leave, I asked the nurse about the Sheriff. She closed the door and told me in a hushed tone, “We had a drowning today.”

My heart dropped. I caught my breath. We walked toward the exit of the Emergency Room, and we passed the family being escorted in by two security guards. The woman who I assumed was the mom was still in her pajamas and her face told the story. The extended family surrounded her. One of the men locked eyes with me. I gave the smallest smile I could give in an effort to say, “I see you.” He then looked at Reese longer than a moment. In my mind, I imagined he was thinking, it’s not fair that you get to leave.

It’s taken me several days to be able to talk about this. In some way I felt like I was a part of their story. We were there. We were there when he arrived. We were there when he was pronounced dead. We were there as the family was being escorted in. We exchanged glances. It hurt to be a part of their story.

I think one of the hardest parts of being in a crisis is seeing the rest of the world carrying on while you are screaming, and feeling as if nobody can hear you. I remember the days after Reese was diagnosed with Aicardi Syndrome, seeing kids riding bikes and playing and people smiling and taking out the trash. I wanted the world to stop for a moment, but it wouldn’t.

People need to be seen. People need more love. There is always room for more of that. Pick your head up and look around. Who needs to be seen and acknowledged and loved a little more? There are probably people in my life right now who are screaming to be seen. I’m asking God to show me who they are. And to have enough care and love to do something about it.

One family walking out the door to go celebrate a birthday while another walked in to see their child for the last time. These are the things that are so hard for me to reconcile, and the only answer I hear from God is this: LOVE MORE. It’s actually the answer to almost everything. More love. And then a little more. I will probably never see this family again. But I can pray for them. And I can remember them, remember their faces, and allow them to soften my heart toward others who need more love, need a word of encouragement, need people who care, who need to be seen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Look for the Shimmer

The other night I was putting Reese to bed. She was gazing into my soul, and I into hers. We laughed and we hugged. It’s my favorite thing. I held her tight and begged God not to ever take her away.

I used to cry out to God and ask why. Why did you allow her to have Aicardi Syndrome and seizures and so many struggles. Why did you allow me to have a child who would receive such a diagnosis. Why, God? I just need to know why. If I know why, then I can move forward.

People would give me answers. You must have sinned. Or maybe Mario. Did you have an affair? Or maybe your ancestors sinned. Our doctor said it was bad luck. Some would say, “It’s because of the fall. Sin entered the world at the fall of man. We live in a broken world, you know.” This never satisfied me. Because why doesn’t your child have Aicardi Syndrome then.

That night I felt the fullness of joy that Reese carries with her, and I was thinking of that pat answer. And I say no. no. She is so much more than the result of the fall. She is not merely the consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve. She is a beautifully thought out, created daughter of God, who carries with her something. Something I cannot even define, but can only be described as a foreshadowing of what heaven will be like. When love is totally pure. When joy is not affected by daily circumstances. When relationships have all of the good stuff and none of the downside. She has it. She is so much more than what you describe. Please stop saying those things. John 9 provides a perfect answer to me--it is all for the glory of God. To point people back to God. The truth is none of us knows all of the whys behind Aicardi Syndrome, but I can tell you that I don’t care why anymore. The why doesn't matter because the what is so beautiful to me.

The next morning, I opened a devotional (Savor, by Niequist) and read this:

“When you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration. When you can invest yourself deeply and unremittingly in the life that surrounds you instead of declaring yourself out of the game, once and for all, because what’s happened to you is too bad, too deep, too ugly for anyone to expect you to move on from, that’s a good, rich place. That’s where the things that looked like curses start to stand up and shimmer and dance, and you realize that they may have been blessings all along. Or maybe not. Maybe they were curses, but the force of your belief and hope and desperate love for life has brought a blessing from a curse, like water from a stone, like life from a tomb, like the story of God over and over.”

And then it ended with a question…What events in your past felt like curses and turned out to be blessings?

Ummmm I have one.

Sometimes I hear how people talk about their children as such a sad story and I think to myself, I see it so differently. But I think that’s the point. We get to choose how we see it. When we see our children as beautiful and focus on the celebration of those unique beauties, that’s when those things that people may call curses, or the result of the fall, or even those things that were intended to harm us, those things stand up and shimmer and God says, oh no way. I love her. I meant this for good. Shall we celebrate?

We get to choose how we see things. One of the greatest lessons Reese has taught me is to ask God, “Will you show me how you see this person? Let me see what you see.” Oh man, try it. The world changes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas, Friends!

I have so many things to tell you! No card again this year, but here's a blog. Maybe next year? We made it through 2016, friends. We made it together. Hopefully we are all still friends. That's a joke--of course we are!!

Let's start with our youngest. Reese turned 9. She had a banner year. A banner year! Not one respiratory illness in 2016. We had one hospital stop, as the altitude and allergy combo in Flagstaff was not Reese's favorite thing. One ambulance ride down to Phoenix, no biggie. But other than that, she's been HEALTHY! And Happy! And laughing and communicating and loving because that's what she does best. Cannabis oil (CBD) has reduced her seizures by 70%, so whenever you hear people talk about Medical Marijuana as a "charade", etc., please tell them about the sweetest girl you've ever known. We have to be her voice! I was just thinking today about all of the love Reese has brought into our lives--first and foremost, just in being who she is. She's 100% love to us. She also attracts love to our home. Her therapists and nurses and teachers and doctors and fellow special needs families. We are surrounded by a lot of loving people, and as one friend recently commented, she has increased our capacity to love. I loved that. So to you, I want to say, if you are dealing with something hard right now, just wait. Stay close to God and know that He can make it beautiful. Not just OK, but actually beautiful. Just wait and watch and allow him to increase your capacity to give and receive love.

Olivia. 12. Sweet little thing. She surprised all of us this year with her performance in Elf the Musical. She told me her audition was terrible. She said was so nervous and awkward. And we believed her! Then they gave her a lead role and she shocked us with her ability and confidence. It was a joy to watch her because of all of those things. She loves music, her friends, and animals, and being creative, and she started a "slime" business with her buddy. If you're wondering what that is, you can follow them on Instagram at ThoseSlimeGirls. Little entrepreneurs, those two. She's a joy to live with--God speaks wisdom through her to me all the time. This morning she told me, "I was praying before I went to sleep, and then I said Amen and I woke up and it was morning!" Special kid. It's really awesome to be her mom.

Mia. 15. Full of life. Everything about Mia is big. Big voice, Big beauty, Big personality, Big heart. She's fun, independent, witty, smart and loyal and sometimes a little crazy.:) She loves her friends and music and singing loud for all to hear and softball and good books and Reese. She's her sister's keeper, which is one of my favorite things about her. She loves her youth group too--yea for youth group! And she entered her first voice competition this year, where she received an Honorable Mention from the judges. I was so proud of her! Hooray for courage! She can't decide if she wants to be a NICU nurse, an Occupational Therapist, work on Broadway, or pursue softball, but whichever way, she's going big.:)

Faith. 17. Tender-hearted one. Faith is full time at Shadow Mountain High School this year. First time in public school, which she described as "The best thing that has happened because I've learned how to really trust God day by day.:)" She officially signed to play golf at the University of Montana in November. She will be leaving us in August to go off and turn into an adult or something. We are so proud of her and she's so excited, so we are all excited. She's a sweet spirit, family girl...who's moving far away to Montana. But because God describes himself as one who does "more than we can ask or imagine," I'm not surprised that one of her very dearest life-long friends may be joining her and rooming with her. I mean c'mon. More than we could ask or imagine. She loves the Lord, loves to engage in important conversations, she's funny and fun, and she's so beautiful inside and out. I'm going to miss her like crazy, but we have plans to FaceTime every night during dinner, so I'm thanking God for technology. Right??

Mario. Let me tell you a story. The other day I met a grandpa who lives in Texas. He told me he remembered Mario from Mia's 8th grade graduation (His granddaughter was in her class). He said Mario prayed at the end of the ceremony, and he approached Mario afterward and said, "You pray like you know Him." Then he said, "I'll never forget what he told me next. When I asked him about what he does for a living, he told me that his mission is to make sure everyone knows about Jesus and then to get the heck out of here. I've never forgotten that and I tell people about him all the time." That pretty much sums up Mario. He knows God and He really loves Him. And He wants everyone else to know Him too. So he's dedicated his life to make sure that happens. (He runs a non-profit called Death2Life Revolution, in case you don't know: And the truth is, when doctors tell you that your child will beat you to heaven, you really keep your mind and heart there. Some of you will totally get that. But then again, Jesus told us to set our minds on things above, not on things here on earth, so it all makes sense anyway. He's always been Faith's number one fan, and now he will be the Griz Nation's number one fan--get ready for Mario, Montana!

Kerry. God has moved things around in such a way that I have to accept nursing help. Our favorite nurse left for a hospital job earlier this year, but now she has decided to come back. I told you Reese attracts love! She can only do so if she works more hours. So I have lots of help and it's such a good thing. But it does kinda make me laugh to see how God made it happen because I hadn't always accepted it. After dreaming and researching for the last year, I launched an online clothing boutique in November called Ellie & Adair:, and it has been SO MUCH FUN. It made me realize that God IS so much fun. Matthew 11:30 (MSG) says "Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." He's taught me that I need to actually enjoy my life. I can choose to walk in duty and stress and to-dos, or I can just enjoy my people and my Savior. I don't know if you've done that your whole life, but I don't think I have. I will have 3 teenage girls in February. Of course that comes with some challenges, but one thing that has been really delightful is watching them turn into the type of people I would choose as my friends. I didn't expect that.:)

We love you so much--you, the one reading this. As I write this and think of you, I feel LOVE for you and from you. YOU have unique gifts that no one else has--really, NO ONE. Some people may have similar gifts, but no one has the combination of gifts that you do and no one ever will. Consider it. Don't ever ever lose sight of that, and know that you are LOVED by God (so loved--take a moment to ask him to show it to you) and by us, and you are needed and valued and YOU are so special. It's true. We have lost friends to suicide this year. The enemy of our souls is a liar, and he doesn't want you to believe the truth about who you are. I hope you know that you matter and the world would not be the same without you. And I hope you know that you can always talk to us or someone at if you want to be anonymous. I just had to make sure you heard that!

Now to another really important part...

I love this translation of Isaiah 9

For a child has been born—for us! (That's Jesus)
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world. (You know how you're worried about the government? That's on Jesus)
His names will be: Amazing Counselor, (I need one of those)
Strong God, (Yes, Jesus is God)
Eternal Father, (He will never leave us and cares for us like a good father does his own children)
Prince of Wholeness. (He makes us whole)
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.

No limit to the wholeness he brings! That is the good news of Christmas. May you experience that "no limits" kind of wholeness this year. We love you.:)

Merry Christmas!

Love, Kerry, Mario, Faith, Mia, Olivia, and Reese